In Memoriam: Judith Heumann - Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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In Memoriam: Judith Heumann

March 6, 2023

March 4, 2023, disability rights legend Judith Heumann passed away. Heumann was a leading voice for the rights of disabled persons and a tireless advocate for health care, dignity, social justice, and inclusion for all people. Health & Medicine is proud to honor her legacy passion for our shared vision—a society free of social and health inequities so that all people can attain their full potential.

Heumann, who contracted polio at the age of two, became New York’s first teacher to use a wheelchair after she successfully sued the Board of Education for withholding her teaching license because she failed their physical exam. The accomplishment represented a series of firsts for Heumann, who founded the first grassroots center for independent living in Berkeley, California, and spurred a nationwide movement.

Heumann was vital to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons. From 1993 to 2001, she served as the Clinton Administration’s Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education. She then served as the World Bank’s first Advisor on Disability and Development from 2002 to 2006 and was appointed by President Obama to be the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State.

An intrepid organizer and advocate for persons with disabilities,Judith reminded us that changes takes all of us, all of the time:

“Change never happens at the pace we think it should,” she said. “It happens over years of people joining together, strategizing, sharing, and pulling all the levers they possibly can. Gradually, exrcuicatingly slowly, things start to happen, and then suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, something will tip.”

For more on this remarkable life, see Heumann’s memoir, Being Heumann, and the documentary film, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.